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How can a loving God allow people to suffer so much?
Thank you for your question about God being loving and the suffering that is seen throughout the world.
In order to make sense of the suffering we see in the world around us we need to understand both where it is we have come from and where it is that we are going.
When we read our Bibles we discover that God's ultimate plan and purpose for humanity was not and is not that we should be separated from him and through that separation experience suffering and death.
At the beginning of creation human beings lived in the presence of God, dwelling where he was, lacking nothing because God provided all they needed. But because of human sin we have become separated from what he originally ordained for us. It is because of that original sin committed by Adam and eve in the garden that creation has suffered corruption and decay. As Paul writes for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
We often ask where God is in the world whilst we ignore the very commands God gave to avoid the suffering we see.
We ask where God is when we see famine but could God be any clearer when he tells us to “love our neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). To put it in a blunt western context, we question where God is when we see those without food whilst we can't decide what take away to eat tonight.
As James puts it: if a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)
God's way is always the best way, but it's often the last path we travel.
The Bible is clear that because of this fallen and less than perfect state we and the world now reside in we will all face trials and tribulations of many kinds. Our struggles are something that we have to deal with as a reality of this life and if we see them as something that should never happen we only make it harder for ourselves to deal with when they do.
As hard as they might be to go through and although we would rather avoid them, there is value in our struggles. We often learn little from what we already know how to get right, it's our mistakes and trials that teach us the most about life. It’s in our times of trial that our false idols can be smashed and we see that Christ our Redeemer is the only solid foundation that we can build our lives and hopes on. That’s why Paul writes:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
There is value in our struggles because they point us to that which our soul’s desire and that is what heaven offers.
This world and this life can never truly be what we want it to be because the corruption of sin has entered and tainted creation. That's why C.S. Lewis so profoundly wrote "If I find within myself desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical conclusion is that I was made for another world."
Christ says to every believer 'I am a king, but my Kingdom is not of this world.' That is our solid hope and our firm foundation, Heaven is the restoration of God's perfect creation for those who are his people, those who have been born again and made new by faith in the one who died to save them, Jesus Christ.
That is why Paul writes I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18) and rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
We rejoice in hope and live with joy even through the inevitable struggles of this life because we know that this life is not the end but just the beginning. It is into an eternity with Christ our saviour that we are going where there is no pain and no suffering and all pure desires are fulfilled.
John paints the most vivid picture of what is to come in Revelation 21:3: Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
Paul mirrors this truth for us when he says in Romans 5:3-5: not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
It is our sufferings in this life that give depth and weight to this hope of eternity with God to which we cling. That is not to say that we should not come before God in times of need asking for his provision and deliverance. We absolutely should pray about the troubles we and those around us face. After all the very saviour we come before with our fears and failures, he himself suffered and died and the hands of the very people he endured the cross to save.
And that is why Hebrews 4:15 reminds us for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.
Whatever the outcome of the situations we bring before God may be we must never lose sight of the fact that this life is not and can not be all that our hearts long for. Death, because of human sin, is a reality in this life that every person must face and it is that same sin that made in necessary for God in all his mercy to come down to earth in the form of a man and suffer and die in our place, so that we may be free of the power of sin and death.
This is why Christ can be the only saviour, because he is the only solution to human sin.
Jesus did what no other person has ever done; he kept God's law in its entirety, he lived a perfect life and then walked willingly to the cross to be punished in the place sinners. We broke God's law and yet Christ takes our punishment.
He who had no sin took on himself every sin that would ever be committed past, present and future and bore in himself the just penalty for those transgressions, declaring with his final breath “It is finished!” (John 19:30)
Then God raised him from the dead on the third day so that death would be defeated and we who place our faith in him will be raised to new life along with him no longer under the curse of death that sin creates.
Scripture speaks for itself,
But God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
God made him who had no sin to be for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is what we call the “great exchange”, that Jesus takes on him our sin and puts on us his sinless righteousness. The result is stated in the conclusion of the first verse we looked at:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
This is God's message to humanity and it often shines most clearly to us in our greatest times of trial. It may be that you have already accepted Christ as your saviour but if you have not I would seriously encourage you to think about these verses.
Either way we would encourage you to pray about this and continue to seek God and his truth. God gave us the Bible for the sole purpose that we are able to know the one who has come down from heaven to save us and one very good place to start if you want to know more would be the gospel of John.
I do hope this general answer to your question goes some way to helping you find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: www.lookingforGod.com
In closing, I want to encourage you to get more involved with your local church. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey:
Please use our Interactive Answer Matrix and feel free to ask another question. Our helpful staff are praying for you and waiting to try and answer to you from the Bible, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world.
*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline
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